Surgeon use of medical jargon with parents in the outpatient setting

A. R. Links, W. Callon, C. Wasserman, J. Walsh, M. C. Beach, E. F. Boss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objective: Unexplained medical terminology impedes clinician/parent communication. We describe jargon use in a pediatric surgical setting. Methods: We evaluated encounters between parents of children with sleep-disordered breathing (SDB; n = 64) and otolaryngologists (n = 8). Participants completed questionnaires evaluating demographics, clinical features, and parental role in decision-making via a 4-point categorical item. Two coders reviewed consultations for occurrence of clinician and parent utterance of medical jargon. Descriptive statistics established a profile of jargon use, and logistic regression evaluated associations between communication factors with jargon use. Results: Unexplained medical jargon was common (mean total utterances per visit = 28.9,SD = 19.5,Range = 5–100), including SDB-specific jargon (M = 8.3,SD = 8.8), other medical terminology (M = 13.9,SD = 12) and contextual terms (M = 3.8,SD = 4). Parents used jargon a mean of 4.3 times (SD = 4.6). Clinicians used more jargon in consults where they perceived parents as having greater involvement in decision-making (OR = 3.4,p < 0.05) and when parents used more jargon (OR = 1.2,p < 0.05). Conclusions: Jargon use in pediatric surgical consultations is common and could serve as a barrier to informed or shared parent decision-making. This study provides a foundation for further research into patterns of jargon use across surgical populations. Practice implications: Results will be integrated into communication training to enhance clinician communication, foster self-awareness in language use, and create strategies to evaluate parental understanding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1111-1118
Number of pages8
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • Communication
  • Decision-making
  • Jargon
  • Otolaryngology
  • Pediatrics
  • Physician/patient relationship
  • Tonsillectomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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